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Picky Eater and Holiday Foods – S1 E22

Holiday foods are often a special treat for adults. But for toddlers, especially picky eaters, convincing them to try new meals can turn the dinner table into a battleground. Do you encourage them to taste new foods? Or do you let them eat their fill of dinner rolls instead?

To answer these questions, host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez consults with Alan Brown, the Women, Infants, and Children’s Training Manager in the Bureau of Nutrition and Physical Activity at Arizona’s Department of Health Services. He shares his tips for making family holiday meals enjoyable. Plus, how to appease the picky eaters in your family.

Podcast Resources:
WIC Arizona
Listen Again: Time for Table Foods?
AZ Health Zone
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

host Guest: Alan Brown is the Women, Infants, and Children’s Training Manager in the Bureau of Nutrition and Physical Activity at Arizona’s Department of Health Services.


Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Program Director for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Around here, we get it. Raising a child can be scary, overwhelming, and totally confusing at times.

That’s why we created The Parenting Brief, to put you at ease with tips and tricks from childhood experts who also happened to be moms and dads, just like you.

Thank you for joining us for this episode of The Parenting Brief. The holiday season is here! Regardless of what or how you celebrate, chances are there will be delicious food, at least for the adults. While you dig, in the unfamiliar tastes, smells, and [00:01:00] textures might not be as appealing for toddlers. It also raises questions for parents about table food.

Should you stick to your normal feeding routines or is it okay for both you and your baby to indulge in holiday meals? Plus if your child is a picky eater, the holidays might also make it a really difficult and frustrating time to find something that satisfies your kiddo without having to make yet another meal.

If you have a picky eater on your hands, or have questions about how to introduce unfamiliar foods to your little one, this episode is for you.

With us today is Alan Brown. Alan is the Women, Infants, and Childrens Training Manager at the Bureau of Nutrition and Physical Activity at Arizona’s Department of Health Services. Thanks for coming back on the podcast, Alan.

Alan Brown: It’s my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Parenting seems to always throw us the curve balls right

when we feel like we are getting the hang of things. So last time we talked about transitioning to [00:02:00] solid food, which we hope helped some of our listeners make that experience a little less stressful, but now it’s holiday time, which means seasonal dishes, maybe some new textures and new flavors, all of the things we can’t wait for as adults, but our children will push away.

So what are some ways parents can introduce new foods to their little ones in a way that doesn’t result in a total battle of wills.

Alan Brown: So I’m a big advocate of just trying to normalize all foods, right? So one thing that parents can do is when they’re offering new foods is just not make a big deal out of it, like at all.

So offer all the foods that everyone is eating at the table, preferably, or wherever they’re eating, and be a good role model. So eat the foods that, you know, everyone else is eating as well. And over time, like, even if it’s just these seasonal foods, like every year, if they’re offered over time, [00:03:00] kids will see these are the foods that are offered at this time.

And over the years, they’ll probably start to incorporate those foods into their diet, just like any other food that’s offered to them. And one other thing I was going to point out too is you never want to try to force kids to eat any of those foods, even seasonal foods. But I’m also a proponent of making meals, comfortable for kids.

So offering at least one food that they’ve accepted previously. So for many families, that’s offering some kind of bread or grain product, whether that be bread or tortillas or rolls or something of that sort, something that that kid will feel comfortable eating at the table. You know, even if they are not comfortable eating any of the new foods that have been offered.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So sometimes mealtimes for little ones, especially when something unfamiliar is presented, it does result in a meltdown or pushing the food away or getting mad or wanting something that isn’t available or offered no matter how strategic you are about it. So what should parents do during these [00:04:00] moments when their kids are having a total meltdown at the table?

Alan Brown: So I think one of the most important thing that parents can do in these situations is just to stay calm. Like I mentioned before, I’m a huge advocate of trying to make mealtimes as pleasurable and comfortable for everyone at the table. So obviously if one person, in this case a child, is losing it, the best thing a parent can do is just stay calm and just explain,

you know what conceivably would have been the expectations that have been in place all along, which are that they are able to eat any of the foods offered as much as they want. So if the parent or caregiver reiterates that those are the expectations that that child can eat as much or as little of the foods that have offered,

and if there are still not behaving satisfactorily, then I would encourage the caregiver to ask the child to leave the table for a time until they can calm down and demonstrate that they’re ready to rejoin the meal.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: When you say about [00:05:00] they can have as much or as little as what’s offered. So we were talking a minute ago about bread, grains, pasta,

so if that is something that is offered and that’s the only thing they’ll eat and they want a lot of it, then that’s great. We want to give them, since it was something that was offered, we just continue to give that. Or should we have those expectations that they try everything that’s on their plate before they have more of something?

Alan Brown: So to answer your question, I think you had two different questions in there. One was about, is it okay if kids keep eating those grain products? And the answer to that is yes, absolutely. If that is the only food that they’re comfortable eating at that mealtime, then I would just encourage parents just to let them eat as much of that as they want.

The idea is that over time they will probably get bored if they’re only eating bread and will probably eventually start to branch out and try other foods that are offered.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Should we have that expectation that they [00:06:00] eat or try everything that is given to them prior to having seconds of the something that they do want to eat?

Alan Brown: No, I would not encourage parents to try to force, coerce, or even encouraged kids to eat anything specifically. So a lot of parents will get into that mindset where they will say things like you have to eat so much of this food before you can have something else. So I would encourage caregivers to refrain from any of those types of rules.

They only serve to make mealtimes more combative, right? And when caregivers do that, they unintentionally make some foods more appealing than others. So when you say things like, you need to eat at least three more bites of chicken before you can have brownies for dessert. In saying that what you just unintentionally did was make that chicken seem less appealing,

something that they have to force themselves to do, and you made those brownies seen way, way, way more appealing, like this is some great [00:07:00] reward. So like I said before, I’m a huge advocate of just trying to normalize all foods that are offered. So if a kid is requesting maybe they just want only mashed potatoes, for example, and just requesting more and more mashed potatoes, just keep offering them more mashed potatoes.

And if that’s all they eat that’s okay.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So let’s talk a little bit about the timing of meals. So a holiday family meal might throw off a child’s eating time routine for sure. I know in my house we tend to do like a late lunch, early dinner situation. I don’t know why we do it, it just is. So should parents feed their children a snack if mealtimes are pushed back or is it okay to wait to eat as a family when that time is there?

What are those appropriate expectations parents should have for their young children’s ability to be flexible in these situations?

Alan Brown: That’s a great question. So let me first just say, the part of the division of responsibility is knowing who’s responsible for what in the feeding relationship. And I think I probably mentioned before during [00:08:00] our previous conversation that the division of responsibility states that parents or caregivers are in charge of what foods are offered

and where they’re offered and what times they’re offered. And of course, what time is the answer to your question. So of course caregivers should always be in charge of what time foods are offered. And I would never encourage parents just to succumb to the whims of a child saying that they’re a little hungry because that can throw off the feeding schedule for everyone else in the family.

But it’s also important to note that especially for small kids, infants and toddlers, that they physiologically, aren’t going to be able to be accustomed to having like a breakfast, lunch, dinner meal schedule. They’ll need to have some kind of snack or two in between those meals. Or even every two to three hours, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But you know, over time, especially as they get into those school age years, most kids are able to start to adapt to whatever the caregiver’s preferred eating schedule is. [00:09:00] So that’s just breakfast, lunch, and dinner that’s okay. If it’s breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and then dinner, that’s okay as well.

But it’s important that the caregiver have the responsibility for what times meals are offered.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: And how long should, when we’re talking about, you know, toddlers, is there an amount of time like they should eat every four hours or, I mean, we talk a lot in infancy about how often a baby should eat, is there that same type of idea or structure when you hit those toddler and preschool ages?

Alan Brown: Yeah, so for toddlers, I would say probably no more than about every three hours, four hours tops between offering some type of meal occasion. You know, whether that’s regular meal or just a snack.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Well thank you so much for being on here. There are so many things we can talk about and taking this little bit, piece by piece, moment by moment and learning as we go is the best that we can do,

but [00:10:00] your advice and information is so awesome and helpful, and it helps me and I hope that it helps our listeners, so thank you so much for being on here with me today.

Alan Brown: It’s my pleasure absolutely, anytime.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Find out more about toddler nutrition and table foods by checking out the links in the show notes. And don’t forget to follow The Parenting Brief on your favorite podcast app, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. You can also ask Alexa to play The Parenting Brief podcast. And help make the holiday season less stressful for the other moms in your life

by sharing this episode with them. Until next time, this is Jessica. You’ve got this,Mom.

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